Armed to the teeth

Read / lees in : Nederlands

Virunga NP / DRC (Congo Kinshasa)
For a moment I thought he was going to kiss me.

To be honest, I had never even heard of the Virunga NP in Congo Kinshasa (DRC) when I traveled down the west coast of Africa last year. But when I read in the newspapers that the oldest park of Africa was being closed because two tourists had been kidnapped while a handful of rangers were killed in the process, I just simply had to go. Everybody advised me against driving from west to east through former Zaïre though, because it would be too dangerous. Even for me. So almost a year later we had finally arrived in neighbouring Rwanda. And although you can visit gorillas there too my mind was set on Virunga. In the mean time the park had reopened for business, so all the pieces fell right into place. The gorilla permits cost a staggering 1500 dollars in Rwanda, 600 in Uganda but only 400 in Congo. So that alone made it worth risking our lives.


Virunga NP / DRC (Congo Kinshasa)
Bad breath makes gorillas aggressive, so I had to cover my mouth.

But as always the price skyrockets as soon as you check some of the options. Spending the night in a tent inside the park for instance costs 350 dollars per person per night. Fortunately that’s full board, on the other hand the bar bill is always higher in our case and of course they didn’t include that. By adding a trek to the Nyirogongo volcano and our visas we eventually spent more than it would’ve cost in Rwanda. But when we were picked up at the border it became clear why it all was a bargain really. We drove off to the park escorted by two cars. Filled with around twenty rangers armed to the teeth who accompanied us all the time during the following days. A security detail Trump can only dream about, and he spends a lot more on it I think.

The floor is lava

Nyirogongo volcano / DRC (Congo Kinshasa)
Pressure cooker.

The day after we’d arrived we went to see the main attraction right away, the mountain gorillas. They’d spent a year to make the gorilla family we visited accustomed to humans. With special training focussed on the smell of white folks and Asians. The rangers also make sure they don’t move further up the mountain, otherwise it’ll be too tough for the tourists. Because the forest where they live is ‘literally’ impenetrable (the forest in Uganda where gorillas live is actually named ‘Impenetrable Forest‘). We were quite impressed, because in the end you’re taking your pictures at just a few meters distance of these brutally strong animals. The very next day we climbed the Nyirogongo volcano. A real run for your money activity like back in the days. The path goes up and up all the way to 3470 meters above sea level, without a single level stretch. And you have to keep going, because the little cabin where you’ll spend the night at extreme costs is on the very rim of the crater. Much to my surprise it was even worth it all as we had a clear view at the worlds largest lava lake from up there. In the morning we stumbled back down and were taken back to the border. Ebola and bullet hole free, but hardly able to walk for a week. A real bargain!

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